Snowbirds (+ expansions)

Title: Snowbirds (Expansions: Storms & Sunset Sky)
Player Count: 1 or 2
Play time: 10/15 minutes

Snowbirds was released in 2017 as part of the Solitaire PNP Contest organised by BGG Yeah you probably see a trend as to where I find my inexpensive or free games at the moment. Tough year to come on top because Black Sonata was part of the candidates (which I late pledged with its expansion only a few days ago and am really excited about. If you are curious there you go: link). However, Snowbirds stil managed to lead the charts in some of the categories that year.

That was enough for me to check it out and let’s be honest, it is mostly the art that motivated me to read more about it too. Nature seems to transcribe particularly well into nice board games int he last few years and birds are very common too (yes Wingspan, we are looking at you) – on a side note, I think bees are close to n°1 this couple of years with a plethora of games using them (Honey Buzz, Queenz, Bees Secret Kingdom, etc.).

Anyway, this all led me to check this game and I was even happier to notice additional content was also available with two expansions on BGG. I therefore switched on my printer to get yet another PNP game. Before delving deeper into Snowbirds, I just wanted to mention that I also checked on Kickstarter and was surprised this had not been picked up by a publisher for a physical release. That said, I saw that the artist and designer Brian Garthwaite has made several games (some equally gorgeous) but most them have remained “only” PNP projects.

What is Snowbirds ?

In Snowbirds, you are guiding your flock of birds on their migration from North to South. This will not be an easy task as you must make sure they survive the trip by controlling their food, exhaustion and their pace. You will be going through the deck of cards to reveal your actions and the locations you are passing by but must remain careful in your choices. Taking the risk not to forage enough food in order to have more actions left might also mean you will not make it and might have your birds die of hunger.

This is the pitch for the base game which plays entirely solo. Mechanics are mainly hand management and push your luck. Set up is easy:
– Draw 9 map locations to form the migration deck, place “South” at the bottom and set up North as your starting point
– Shuffle your action cards and deal 5 to build your starting hand
– Set up your player board with Hunger and Exhaustion on 0 and flock (size) on 5

Basic setup after 3 rounds (exhaustion and Hunger at 1) + a nice player aid on the top-right corner

MAP CARDS – As you can notice from the above picture, they have several pieces of information on them (ie. North, Great Lake, Bird Sanctuary and Wheat Field). You can see the track for your flock token, the top row is the distance; Dice symbols represent Risk and bottom row is Hunger. You can also see that some of them (in this picture all of them) can have a special effect triggered when on them: ranging from extra/less foraging, to bonus actions or higher risk.

ACTION CARDS – Here again, these cards have quite some information them. You can see the flight value, foraging content and also an icon in the middle which can be either the value of a die or a “R” (reroll). The size of your hands always equals the size of your flock – except if stated otherwise by a card of if some of your birds die then you will not discard your cards but not replenish them until you have less cards than the amount of birds in your flock.

PLAY ORDER

  • NEW DAY – Draw a new map card and lay it next to North (or the series already placed)
  • PRE-FLIGHT (Each turn only before birds fly)
    * REST: you can place an action card face down to remove 1 Exhaustion (but will lose VPs at the end of the game)
    * FORAGE: you can play an action card Forage side up to decrease Hunger by the amount shown on it
  • JOURNEY
    * FLIGHT: you play your action card Flight side up to meet or exceed the amount of “Distance” on the two map cards in play (the one you leave from and your destination) – any extra points will be lost
    * VIGOR: roll two dice representing your vigor, if this meets or exceed the value shown on your current location + your destination, you succeed. If not, you will increase your exhaustion by 1
    !! You can place one (or more) of your action cards sideways to play their tenacity value and replace one of your dice (by a value indicated in the middle of the action card or if stating an “R” then preroll one of your dice) !!
  • LANDING
    Move your flock token to the next location. Remember to increase Hunger on the player board by adding up the two values on your starting location and the destination (the hunger you built up during your journey)

Push your luck: to use less card you can always not forage or not use “Tenacity actions” (cards put sideways). However, do not forget that Hunger will have an impact on Distance (the hungrier you are, the longer distances will be as your flock is weaker). Besides, exhaustion will also increase the risk value of future cards. All in all, this will make your trip more difficult and if you Exhaustion level passes 2, you will lose a bird and same thing will happen if you ever go over a value of 4 in Hunger.

Migration will end once your flock reaches South, of at least what remains of your initial flock depending on how adventurous or cautions/smart you have been throughout the game. Scoring is easy (but note that minus VPs are possible):
– Earn points for: any distance on unspent action cards + value of your flock
– Lose points for: final value of Hunger; any face down rest cards and final value of exhaustion (- 2 VPs for each point)

Expansions: Sunset Sky (left) & Storms (right)

Expansions offer rules to play with two players. Sunset Sky is adding a lot of new map cards for more variety and also some new effects. Storms is intruding a new system which will branch out locations tempting you into risking even more in order to potentially get some interesting rewards but also with negative effects lurking if you do not manager to go through these stormy cards.

How does it play?

First of all, I am not sure my pictures do justice to the game but I want to emphasise the fact that it is absolutely gorgeous, and whilst I have some reservations (namely when it comes to some location cards from Sunset Sky which I find sometime difficult to read), I was very impressed with how clear, clean and just plainly beautiful these cards are. The colourful locations and well as the simple iconography makes it a real pleasure to browse through this game.

Another aspect of the game I really enjoy is that the narrative makes sense. How exhaustion or hunger are affected by your movements and the effect they have on risk and perception of distance just tie in nicely with the overall storyline. As a player, I really felt like I was controlling my flock and guiding them through these various locations and pondering whether I should take some risks and potentially lose some of my birds. All in all, actions work well, are not too complicated and form overall a nice and pleasant game.

However, I also have some rather major concerns with this game. First of all, I think it is just too easy and this will affect my interest in replaying it rather quickly… I found that it is difficult to lose some of you birds as you can always mitigate risks if you are careful enough. Therefore, this will be mainly about your VPs and not about your flock going through the migration process or not. After quite some games, I never lost any bird and whilst my final score varied greatly, I am not sure this is enough to make me go back many times again to Snowbirds.

Another element is that I do not have any issue with luck and randomness especially when it ties in nicely with the story of the game but in this case I found myself losing interest as I found strategy is rather limited. Bottom line is that the main decision is whether or not you wills sacrifice some hunger and risk just to save some cards. This will most likely be the case every two turns, or you can just figure out by looking at the cards in front of you.

I was really happy with Sunset Sky which adds some nice effects and increases massively the replay value of the game with a lot more location cards. Storms is indeed an interesting concept but for me this ended up increasing the “push your luck” mechanic which I find rather frustrating in this game. These cards will therefore most likely stay aside from the rest of the game. Finally, two-player mode is okay and at least means I can share this with my wife but at heart, Snowbirds remain a deeply solo experience.

Verdict: 6/10 (was probably higher after a couple of plays but wearing out rather quickly for me)

Orchard

Title: Orchard
Player count: 1 (more with several games)
Play Time: +/- 10 minutes

In this period of confinement, I discovered the wonderful world of PNP games. PNP? Print and Play of course – well don’t worry I did not know much about them before this whole staying at home situation. Definitely an inexpensive, pocket-size and fine way to play – well for the ones that are good because it is a very crowded market!

Orchard was awarded in 2018 best nano game during a design contest (link) on BGG – aka Board Game Geek. On year later, Side Room Games created a Kickstarter to fund a physical version of the game and it is now available for you to buy online or to print for free.

What is Orchard ?

It Is a solo card game where your objective is to harvest as many fruits as possible. How do you do this? AT the beginning of the game, you select 9 cards which are all bearing 6 different fruit trees (yellow, purple or red) and shuffle them. You start off your orchard by drawing the first card and setting it on the table.

Then you will take two cards in your hand and you are ready to go! On your turn you will select one of your cards and overlap the trees that are the same on both cards, for each of them you will score points (symbolised by your dice of the same colour). You then draw a new card and select again one from your hand to lay over the fiel in front of you to score more points.

As the game advances, your dice will bring more points depending on how many trees overlap: starting with one, then three, six and then the maximum (10). This is why the physical version uses a specific die with a fruit basket to symbolise this bonus. Of course, the overlapping will get more and more tense as combinations get trickier. Never mind, you have two “rotten fruit” tokens you can use if you overlap two different kinds of tree. However, these will subtract 3 points at the end of the game and also block the trees they rest on until the end of the game!

FYI, I am using the 5 side of the dice for the bonus (10) as I don’t have a physical copy

How does it play?

Orchard is definitely an excellent pocket size game! I love the replayability value and the scoring system. I found it very addictive and also really appreciated the fact that the game comes with 18 cards, meaning that during initial setup you basically split the pack of cards in two, meaning as soon as you are done with your first game you can just start over right away.

However, this has also the limits of its format, which to be fair is nothing to blame the game about. It does what it says on the tin: great fun little game which will keep you entertained for a few sessions at a time. So yes, the theme could be basically anything and randomness plays a big role in it but who cares because your game might be over and done with after 5 minutes, leaving you with the urge to start another one right away!

Verdict: 7.5/10

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